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‘Provincial’ is a lazy term

The gallery scene outside London has always been cultured, writes Rory Olcayto

This week we publish building studies of two galleries in Kent, one in Maidstone, the other in Hastings, which, back in the ‘80s the AJ would have dubbed ‘provincial’. The dictionary definition however – possessing ‘restricted interests or outlook’ – means we should call time on this lazy term, or at least redefine what it means.

As we report in our study of Hugh Broughton’s Maidstone museum and gallery, its collection of Japanese artefacts is among the best in England: how can it be said to have a ‘restricted outlook’? Which brings me to Dunoon on the Cowal Peninsula, the town’s Burgh Hall and its remarkable exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe photos.

The exhibition, in a recently completed new gallery within the Scots Baronial pile, is part of Anthony d’Offay’s ‘Artist Rooms’ initiative, which involves great works of art taken to venues and towns outwith the established art scene. A few weeks ago, d’Offay, the art dealer who sold his art collection to the Tate and National Galleries of Scotland for a knockdown price, and John Leighton, director general of the latter organisation, opened the show, telling more than 300 local residents, ‘It’s an unbelievable pleasure to be here’.

You may think that is remarkable enough: two of the biggest names in contemporary British art holding a conversation on stage in a distant, rural town. And you wouldn’t readily pair Dunoon, less accessible since Caledonian MacBrayne scrapped the car ferry route from Gourock just last year, with the late New Yorker who shot to fame 30 years ago for his provocative, controversial studies of the human form.

The story behind the show is, however, even more remarkable. It began in 2008 when John McAslan, who grew up in Dunoon, rescued the Grade-B listed Burgh Hall, mothballed in the ‘80s, from demolition (he paid a quid for it). ‘My mother called me and said, ‘The Burgh Hall is going to be knocked down. You need to help!’ the London-based Scot explains. In response, the John McAslan Family Trust was set up and, with a variety of grants, committed £200,000 to repurpose the 1873 Robert Bryden-designed building originally built using a local residents fund. Since reopening in May 2009 the exhibitions have come thick and fast: one focused on photographer Martin Parr, another on John Hinde’s classic Butlins photos.

But there’s way more to do. Beyond the essential building work, such as roof repairs, plumbing, heating and electrical work, window replacement and dry and wet works already completed, the next stage, dependent on further funding from an Architectural Heritage Grant, will be to appoint an architect to fully renovate the interior and exterior and begin construction in 2013-14. Those with ‘restricted interests or outlook’ need not apply.



A week on from AJ’s ‘places of worship’ issue, Sacrilegepops up – an ‘interactive’ artwork by Jeremy Deller: in other words, a bouncy castle on Glasgow Green in the form of Stonehenge, which has long been thought of as a Neolithic ‘church’ of sorts. Commissioned for the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, it is the Turner Prize-winning artist’s first major public project in Scotland. Deller worked with Inflatable World Leisure, who built the UK’s first bouncy castle.

Reacting to fears that Glaswegians might not take to what is considered a classic English icon, Deller told the Guardian: ‘It’s not about politics. It’s pre-political – literally. It’s great doing it in Glasgow. This is a city where you can get things done as an artist.’ Sadly not the case for architects, in the current economic climate.

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